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Silva, L.F. "Chano"

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Construction of Fort Sumner Army Airfield. Opinion of value of prisoner of war labor. Incident with Japanese POWs (Texas).

Interviewee L.F. "Chano" Silva, male, born in 1922
Date Range 1942-1946
Date & Location July 25, 2000, Silva Home, Fort Sumner, N.M.
Project Prisoners of War in New Mexico Agriculture
Region Southeast New Mexico
Number of Tapes 1
Transcribed October 3, 2000
Download Abstract


Tape 1, Side A

Silva worked on construction of runways at Fort Sumner; near the end of construction the POWs were brought in. He describes POW compound, which was simply a big fence around them and guards of four sides. POWs performed only menial work; for example, they helped on slop detail to hog farm in the valley, but otherwise did not help with agriculture while he was there.

Silva reports no Italians at Fort Sumner, or "if there was it must have been after I left" in 1943.

Silva describes an escape from Fort Sumner, but the prisoner was later caught down by the river.

Silva believes there was better treatment of German POWs at the Fort Sumner camp than of American POWs in enemy prisoner of war camps, and he believes the Germans felt that way, too. "We treated the POWs better in our camps than we treated our own soldiers in the brig."

Silva had no direct contact with the POWs because they were not used for construction, but were used for K.P. duty, cleaning the base, and cutting weeds.

Silva was wounded on Okinawa, sent to Guam, then to Seattle, and finally to Corpus Christi, Tex. After his hospital discharge, he was assigned as a POW guard at the Japanese stockade there. Silva recalls an incident between himself, some Japanese prisoners, and a baseball. He was sent to San Diego for discharge, but since the train went through Silva's home town, he asked for and was granted a 10-day pass to visit.

The Marine Corps asked Silva to reenlist several times because he speaks four languages. He speaks English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian. Silva declined. The POW camp at Fort Sumner was right on top of the hill, north of the cemetery and close to the hangars. Since there was gas and food rationing, some Americans complained that the POWs were coddled. Silva verified that the prisoners were well-treated. This did not anger Silva because he felt it was helping the war, even though he did not like it.

Before the United States entered the war, citizens were worried about sabotage. Guards were often stationed at key sites, such as railroad bridges.

The citizens believed the POWs were not dangerous, and Silva felt no animosity toward them.